Monday afternoon I arrived in Jamaica to study the effects of climate change (warmer, more acidic waters) on coral reef sponges. Similar to the study examining climate change effects on a boring sponge (see previous blog), this study will be done in tanks on land. But this time we’ll be using heaters to warm the water and CO2 regulators and controllers to control the water’s pH. I had to buy all the necessary equipment in the USA and bring it with me on the plane. Arriving in Jamaica, the custom officers were very interested in my two bags full of aquarium supplies and I spent some time explaining why I needed 15 aquarium heaters and other assortments, but thankfully they let me through. After my colleague Marah Hardt arrived a few hours later, we got a taxi to the Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory. The following day was spent setting up some of the experimental equipment (which I will describe in a later blog), and today we collected sponges.
The coral reefs around Jamaica and throughout much of the Caribbean are dominated by sponges. Displaying all the colors of the rainbow, and ranging up to 5 ft long, sponges are both conspicuous and impressive. This study will focus on sponge species that are common throughout the Caribbean region like the yellow tube sponge, Aplysina fistularis, and the octopus sponge, Ectoploysia ferox.
Sponges have remarkable regenerative abilities, allowing us to remove a small piece, leaving the rest behind. This will heal within a few days and grow back the cut portion in a few weeks or months.
This cut portion is taken back to the lab and cut into smaller pieces or explants. After the explants are fully healed (in a few days) we will use them to examine the effects of climate change.
This study will run for about 1 month and is generously funded by the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.